June 11-July 1
Deb: June 11 – 18: Xi’an and Guilin – “A Feast for the Mind and Eyes”: We contacted Molly at Discover China Tours again and asked her to arrange a tour for us to Xi’an and Guilin. The tour was well planned and we learned a lot. Due to some terrible storms on the day before our return trip home, China’s airline system was severely taxed. But Molly found a way for us to return home with our luggage a day later. We were grateful to have this kind of assistance to solve a problem while traveling in country; we met some western travelers who were stranded without anyone to help.
To describe the trip in detail would take many pages, so I will describe only the highlights and Finnie will add some pictures. Both cities are spectacular and we could have spent many more days in each place – perhaps someday we will return and do just that. Xi’an is an ancient city having served as China’s capital city during several of the ruling dynasties. Its beginnings date from about 6000 years ago! So the history that has been made in Xi’an is extensive and our few days there helped us begin to understand that history and understand a little bit more about the roots of China’s culture.
To relate this to my theme: Xi’an is a feast for the mind. Guilin is a feast for the eyes. Guilin is situated in an extensive area of karsts (“… a special type of landscape that is formed by the dissolution of soluble rocks, including limestone and dolomite. Karst regions contain aquifers that are capable of providing large supplies of water.” http://www.karstwaters.org/kwitour/whatiskarst.htm).
This area was in primordial times situated at the bottom of the ocean. The “hills” which look like one half of an elongated ellipse standing vertically are the karsts formed by thousands of years of erosion of the limestone after the area was pushed up by the tectonic movement that formed the Himalayan mountains. Villages nestle among the hills where farmers grow rice in hundreds of thousands of small rice paddies. The region is prone to rainy conditions and was no exception when we were there; in fact, the River Li became so rain swollen that the river boats did not run the next few days after we left. But, I’ll describe what we saw and did on this trip in the paragraphs that follow.
Beginning on the morning of June 12, our knowledgeable guide, Ann, took us to many places in Xi’an. Our first stop in Xi’an was at the Xi’an Shaanxi Archeological Museum, which provided us the background for understanding the breadth of activities that have occurred in and around Xi’an since 4500 BC to the current time.
Bronze Pot Inside Bronze Pot
Bronze Bells Shell Coins
After the museum, we visited a silk garment and rug factory. Deb and a saleslady made a tie-dye scarf, and we bought some painted scarves.
Then we visited the rug factory area. We watched a young women making a small rug, and we could understand why the small rug took more than a month of full-time work. The larger ones, require many months, obviously, and they were magnificent!
After a very nice lunch near the silk factory, we visited the Big Wild Goose Pagoda, which was “originally built in 652 during the reign of Emperor Gaozong of the Tang Dynasty (618-907). It functioned to collect Buddhist materials that were taken from India by the hierarch Xuanzang. Xuanzang started off from Chang’an (the ancient Xian), along the Silk Road and through deserts, finally arriving in India, the cradle of Buddhism. Enduring 17 years and traversing 100 countries, he obtained Buddha figures, 657 kinds of sutras, and several Buddha relics. Having gotten the permission of Emperor Gaozong (628-683), Xuanzang, as the first abbot of Da Ci’en Temple, supervised the building of a pagoda inside it. With the support of royalty, he asked 50 hierarchs into the temple to translate Sanskrit in sutras into Chinese, totaling 1,335 volumes, which heralded a new era in the history of translation. Based on the journey to India, he also wrote a book entitled ‘Pilgrimage to the West’ in the Tang Dynasty, to which scholars attached great importance.” (Wikipedia) The book is the basis of the story of “The Monkey King”.
Around the Big Wild Goose Pagoda are gardens with Buddha Statues. The popular statue of the Happy Buddha was one that Finnie relates to since this is his Chinese nickname! The Buddhist monk overseeing this statue was highly amused when Finnie rubbed his belly and the Happy Buddha’s belly for this photo.
The museum on the grounds was full of original paintings and calligraphy. We learned about calligraphy and practiced some characters with traditional brush and ink. And we were unable to resist purchasing this beautiful watercolor which now is framed and hanging in our Texas living room.
In the evening, we were entertained one evening at the Tang Dynasty Dumpling and Dance Festival. The Dance festival was interesting but the dumplings were fun to eat. Many different kinds of dumplings were served while we got to know our table mates. We met a father and daughter from Texas and a group of faculty from Mexico visiting the School of Chinese Medicine. We met the international education director of the school who invited us to visit his school in the near future!
We will continue this entry with Entry 23b.